The New Yorker (June 25, 2012 - page 36) has an article, The Paper Trail, written by Ken Auletta, on the current struggles facing the publishing industry in the wake of the suit filed by the Justice Department. The suit alleges price fixing on the part of five publishers and Apple in their attempt to maintain market share of e-books in their dealings with Amazon. Three of the five publishers have already settled, admitting no wrongdoing, leaving Apple and two publishers to battle it out. What's at stake, as the publishers see it, is their very existence as cultural providers. The argument goes that without the ability to establish and maintain base prices on books, the established order will crumble. Publishers will not be able to afford to offer advances to authors and certain books will not be written. We will all suffer in ways not yet fully understood. Discoverability, a term applied to a new author's chances of being seen and heard in the din of onrushing texts, is also at stake without a thriving bookstore environment. They do have a point.
Elisabeth Sifton dilineates the multi-layered problems facing the book world with her insightful essay in The Nation, back in June of 2009. It's even more relevant today:
Amazon, and now the Justice Department, see things differently. I've heard many business terms applied here: creative destruction; market efficiencies; the publishing world as late adopters...the publishing world had been operating on a century old model and Amazon has, in short order, tossed that model overboard. More importantly, the consumers are trending toward e-books and e-readers. The Justice Department's concern is for the consumer. Amazon is willing to take a loss on a book for its own reasons, but the consumer wins with the lower price point. Any attempt by other players to collude to fix prices is illegal.
These are interesting times. It looks to be an uphill battle for Apple and the publishers.
Paper Trail - Did publishers and Apple collude against Amazon? by Ken Auletta, The New Yorker
The New Yorker Out Loud - podcast - the discussion on e-books starts at the 7:00 minute mark - "Are cheap e-books bad for readers?: Ken Auletta and Leo Carey talk to Sasha Weiss about the dramatic effect of e-books on book publishers."
Mike Shatskin, writer of The Shatzkin Files, created this slideshow: